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My Favourite: Pat McCabe

Pat McCabe photographed in Idelwild Dublin 03/03/2018

Pat McCabe ruminates on a favourite spot to sit when young

My favourite place, always, for either writing or thinking, and as often as not a combination of both, is what used to be called the Summer Seat, positioned discreetly in a corner of the square contiguous to the main street of Carn, the little town where I grew up. But it is now referred to as the Summer Seat of Long Ago because I’m afraid it hasn’t appeared in generations.

As far as seats go, there wasn’t a lot to it. It was just your average green-painted bench with wooden slats, a rollover back and curved arms of impressively wrought black iron, with faded decorations in felt marker reading kilroy was here, tommy loves noreen and lisnaskea bute boys rule ok. It sure was, let me tell you, some place from which to view the world passing. ‘Even this auld bucking summer seat of ours is hopelessly evanescent’, Hugh Considine, the milkman and philosopher, used to say as he sat down to join us chatting about ‘the electric’, ‘them hoors Fianna Fáil’ and what, if you were lucky, you might win on the Green Shield stamps. And, occasionally, Winston Churchill if Paddy ‘de Valera’ McCormack happened along on his way to the bookies.

Our humble combination was, in its way, not unlike the Senate, I always thought, only perhaps that little bit more unpredictable and colourful. Because you never knew just who might arrive. With our animated cast consisting, in various rotations, of figures which included Mickey the Jaunt, Peter ‘The Bubbly Man’ Corrigan, Pat Donohoe the chemist, and a cattle-dealing malcontent called Rinty Pacelli ‘Muleskinner’ McGlone. The Mule, I remember, was a particularly taciturn individual, darkly preoccupied with various recent sales—or, more often, no sales. Inscrutably monosyllabic, he reminded me of Rod Serling, the enigmatic presenter of one of my favourite programmes, The Twilight Zone. ‘There is a fifth dimension beyond which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and timeless as infinity’, Rod would say, in flickering monochrome as veined eyeballs, random bedsteads and all manner of accoutrements went drifting past him out in space. ‘Move!’ snarled Muleskinner, dropping a large blob of spit between his wellingtons.

I am conscious of the gender imbalance that is becoming somewhat distressingly apparent, but hope it can be excused by the prevailing social mores of the period, perhaps best illustrated by the dramatic arrival of Mrs Peter ‘Bubbly’ Corrigan, who, shuffling past in her anorak, paused to hit her husband a ‘clatter’, simultaneously delivering an impassioned denunciation not only of her spouse but every ‘summer seat-hogging wastrel who has nothing to do only lie around blathering, puffing fags half the day, criticising their neighbours when they should be at work or doing something useful, like any reasonable, law-abiding Christian!’ I thought she was going to hit him with her umbrella, but, happily, no. ‘Phphwisht!’ she hissed, and when we looked, she was gone—inspecting onions in a crate outside the shop.

All of this was around the time of the ‘crazy cat’ sixties—when everyone sported dark suits and slim-jim ties the same as Rod’s. But the Summer Seat was there into modern times also when David Bowie, T. Rex  and, ahem, Gary Glitter came wafting out through the window of the Butter Market. I leafed through the pages of my paperback—now no longer Emil and the Detectives or Biggles Jollywell Carpetbombs Dresden, but Trout Fishing In America by Richard Brautigan—before heading home to Captain Beefheart and his latest release. ‘This will have to quit!’ bawled my red-faced, puffy father, banging a door.

I suppose, in our way, without knowing it, sitting there, we were all a little bit like Beckett and his men. ‘Who knows where the time goes?’ I remember Sandy Denny chanting in the dying days of the Summer Seat’s final tenure, not long before she herself passed away. ‘How could she have been unhappy?’ I used to think. That was a puzzle I couldn’t answer, seeming as she did to me to have everything: youth, beauty and a voice never equalled.

I wrote a novel recently in which the Summer Seat doesn’t directly feature, but it’s there all the same, in the wings you might say. I watched all the townspeople making their way to the cinema or the chapel where the first consonants of my name were about to be breathed on the celebrant’s lips.

But if this account seems unduly melancholic, might I request the erasure of such apprehensions: for there, too, is my buoyant Uncle Joe, rubbing his hands as he declares ‘McAloon will lift her!’ Meaning the Ulster trophy of course, which his beloved Donegal are sure to scoop. He turns to me and strokes his chin gravely: ‘Has the ‘auld sate’ got its annual lick of paint?’ ‘It has indeed,’ I reassure him, as the eponymous wooden-slatted convenience, ever so elegantly, begins to levitate—and, before we know it, we are piloting our way towards Saturn, in our impertinent, beloved chariot indissolubly bonded, somewhere far beyond Orion, becoming mist, becoming rain.

Article first published in Books Ireland magazine Nov/Dec 2019.

Pat McCabe’s latest novel The Big Yaroo is out now, published by New Island Books.

Pat will be in conversation with Aíne Lawlor at opening night of Dublin Book Festival, Thursday 14th November. More details here: http://www.dublinbookfestival.com/pat-mccabe/